Salaries: corporate creep in the arts

by Yule Heibel on June 25, 2005

Why I torture myself with reports like this is …due to couldas, shouldas, wouldas. A few days ago — and I can’t remember the context — I came across this little item: that the Tacoma, Washington Museum of Glass paid its founding director Josi Callan US$282,342 “in compensation, in addition to $33,934 in health, retirement and other benefits.” See Museum of Glass should cut inflated salary for director by Jen Graves (June 19, 2005). As a former academic teaching adjunct who was thrilled when she managed to snag a job that paid $10K per course, I was not heartened to read that museums appear to operate in another galaxy altogether:

For directors in the Western United States, the median salary is $188,000.

For directors at museums of MoG’s budget size: $164,227.

For directors at museums where the metro population is 500,000 to a million people: $130,000.

Tacoma Art Museum’s director makes $125,000.

Seattle Art Museum’s director makes $180,863.

The director at the Northwest’s leading contemporary art museum – the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle – makes $107,332. [More…]

Geez, I don’t know, but when salaries closing in on $200K are involved, I think people tend to get disconnected from reality — for example, the contemporary artists the museums are supposed to be representing — or they get mean. There is just too much at stake when you’re earning that much in the non-profit arts or humanities field. I.e., $10K, although considered brilliant for adjunct pay for one course (compared to the state universities’ range of c.$2.5 to 3K) is pretty pathetic and not enough to live on, but nearly $200K annually to run a non-profit organisation like a museum? …Well, that’s exactly the kind of thing that makes the museums so removed from average people, isn’t it? But what are museums for, then?

I tried to find out what the situation in Canada is like, but only managed to dredge up this CTV article from 2002: How Much? A SURVEY OF SALARIES. It covers Medicine, Boards, Technology, Public Transit, Banking, Academia, Real Estate, Media, Police, Advertising, Politics, Law, Teaching, Arts, Personal Trainers, Architects, Accounting, Restaurants, Fundraising, Retail, and Finance. Don’t miss the final section, Money Talks, which profiles some Canadian high salary flyers like Peter Jennings, Graydon Carter, Wayne Gretzky, et al.

Academia, at any rate, is a field where a previous successful career in merchant banking — or a family trust fund — can come in handy, because your salary alone won’t enable a comfortable middle class lifestyle replete with a gazillion toys. According to the article, “Approximately half of [Canadian]assistant professors earn between $26,704 and $45,522.” I know it’s no better in the US, and it’s getting worse everywhere, with universities relying ever more on adjuncts (or sessionals), who get paid peanuts. The incomes cited for people working in “the arts” are much worse, with the rare exceptions proving the rule.

So what’s the story with the upper-range six-figure salaries paid to a select cadre of directors at non-profit arts institutions or to some professors with senior standing and tenure at some universities? Maybe it’s corporatist-creep. You know, the ideology that basically updates the late 19th century robber baron mentality for today’s late 20th century/ early 21st century entrepreneurial types…? Of course you have to pay museum directors that much money, because it’s part of their job to hobnob with corporatist private sector moguls who make considerably more money than that — hobnob with them and try to pull some of their money out of their pockets and into the institution.

I believe it’s called trickle-down economics. I guess it’s believed by some that it really works.

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